Department of Computer Science and Technology

Wheeler Lectures

David Wheeler

The “Wheeler Lecture” is an annual series of distinguished lectures named after David Wheeler, one of the early pioneers of Computer Science. It usually takes place on a Wednesday in Lecture Theatre 1 of the William Gates Building.

David worked on the original EDSAC computer and wrote one of the first computer programs to be stored in a computer’s working memory. He pioneered the use of sub-routines and is particularly remembered for his work on data compression.

David Wheeler was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1981, one of the earliest computer scientists to be so honoured. In October 2003, he was made a Fellow of the Computer History Museum for his invention of the closed subroutine, his architectural contributions to the ILLIAC, the Cambridge Ring, and computer testing.

David started his PhD in the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory (then the Mathematical Laboratory) in the late 1940s, graduating in 1951. He then spent time at the University of Illinois before returning to the UK. He continued to work in the Computer Laboratory right up until his death, a decade after he had officially retired.

For further information about the Wheeler seminar series contact David Greaves.

Talks@cam entry

The next Wheeler lecture will be given on Wednesday 30th May, 2018 by Prof. Stephen Pulman

2018 – Professor Stephen Pulman: Language, learning, and creativity

Wheeler lecture poster

It’s nearly 70 years since the Turing test was proposed as an operational test for intelligence in computers, and it is still a subject that provokes much discussion. One important aspect of the Turing Test is linguistic ability, and one important aspect of that ability is what Chomsky called “the creative aspect of language use”, the ability of language to serve as “an instrument for free expression of thought, unbounded in scope, uncontrolled by stimulus conditions though appropriate to situations”.

With every new wave of progress in artificial intelligence, such as that promised by the current “deep learning” paradigm, it’s natural to ask the question whether these advances get us any nearer to a machine that could pass the Turing test, or that could use language creatively. In this talk, I’ll explore these issues, in particular looking at some parallels between the implications for human learning that we could derive from current deep learning methods, and the intellectual climate of behaviourism and empiricism in language learning and use that Chomsky was reacting against.


The programme for the day is as follows:

  • 16:15 Wheeler lecture.
  • 17:30 Drinks reception.


There is no charge to attend, but it would be helpful if you could register your interest using the registration form.

2017 – M. Angela Sasse: Can we make people value IT security?

The sixth annual Wheeler Lecture was given at the Computer Laboratory on Wednesday 24th May, 2017. The speaker was M. Angela Sasse who spoke on some of the usability considerations in designing security mechanisms. Abstract and futher information.

2016 – Andrew Herbert: A History of Virtualisation in Operating Systems.

The fifth annual Wheeler Lecture was given at the Computer Laboratory on Wednesday 25th May, 2016. The speaker was Andrew Herbert who gave an overview of virtualisation techniques in operating systems. The lecture was preceded by a series of ‘minute madness’ talks on current research themes. Abstract and further details.

2015 – Butler Lampson: Hints and Principles for Computer System Design

The fourth Wheeler Lecture was given at the Computer Laboratory on Tuesday 26th May, 2015. The speaker was Butler Lampson, Technical Fellow at Microsoft, and Adjunct Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Abstract and further details.

2014 – Jeannette M. Wing: Computational Thinking

The Computer Laboratory celebrated the 10th Anniversary of women@CL on Wednesday 14th May 2014, and the annual Wheeler Lecture was given on that day by Prof. Jeannette Wing. Abstract and further information.

2013 – Tony Hoare: Could Computers Understand Their Own Programs?

The Computer Laboratory celebrated its 75th anniversary on Wednesday 24th April, 2013. The annual Wheeler Lecture was given that day by Sir Tony Hoare. Abstract and further information.

2012 – Bjarne Stroustrup: C++11 Style

The first Wheeler Lecture was held at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory on Wednesday 15 February 2012, at 16:00. The speaker was Bjarne Stroustrup who talked on C++11 Style. Abstract and further details.